The German competition police announced on Tuesday that it had opened an investigation into Apple and its recent device requiring user consent for the tracking of their data by third-party applications. The iPhone maker introduced an update to its devices a year ago asking users for permission to track them as they navigate between various sites and apps to harvest and use their data. This feature, called ATT (App Tracking Transparency), is presented by Apple as an additional protection of consumers’ private data. While saying “welcome business models that respect private data”, the German regulator criticizes Apple for not applying its own rules, thus introducing a distortion of competition. “These rules apparently do not concern Apple with regard to the use and combination of user data in its own ecosystem”, observes the Federal Anti-Cartel Office. It therefore intends to examine “the initial suspicion that these rules could favor Apple’s own offers or hinder other companies”, according to its press release.
“A group like Apple, which can unilaterally set the rules in its ecosystem and in particular in the App Store, should make them competitive. It is reasonable to doubt if Apple sets rules for third parties, but that these rules should not apply to Apple”, continues Andreas Mundt, director of the regulator, quoted in the press release. In concrete terms, the ATT device gives rise to the opening of a consent window when each application is opened. If a user clicks “no”, the app loses access to that person’s advertising ID, a unique number that allows them to be tracked online. This update had angered many platforms and applications fearing that consumers, faced with the choice, would mostly decide to say no, undermining their ecosystem based on targeted advertising. In France, a group of advertising professionals, including Google or Facebook, had asked the Competition Authority to take action against Apple and its update. The German competition watchdog has launched its investigation under a 2021 law extending its powers against net heavyweights. On this basis, the regulator has in recent months opened several procedures placing digital giants such as Meta, parent company of Facebook or Alphabet/Google under enhanced surveillance.